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Soft yet strong gel keeps its shape after being run over by a car

A gel with comparable properties to shatterproof glass might have functions in delicate robots and prosthetics

Physics



25 November 2021

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A brand new gel quickly returns to its unique shape after being severely squashed

Zehuan Huang, University of Cambridge

A delicate gel manufactured from 80 per cent water has comparable properties to shatterproof glass and may stand up to being run over by a car 16 occasions with out lasting deformation. The materials could possibly be helpful for a vary of functions together with delicate robots, prosthetics and wearable units.

Hydrated polymer networks, or hydrogels, which have been made earlier than are delicate and stretchable, with rubber-like properties. But below excessive compression, these gels fail to bounce again to their unique shape.

Now Oren Scherman and his colleagues on the University of Cambridge have created a delicate and compression-resistant gel that may quickly return to its unique shape inside a couple of minutes, even after being repeatedly squished by a car weighing 1200 kilograms.

“This work breaks through the boundaries of what was deemed possible,” says Richard Hoogenboom at Ghent University in Belgium, who wasn’t concerned within the research. Polymer networks are often both strong or deformable, whereas this gel combines each properties to make deformable, strong and hard glass-like supplies, he says.

The gel accommodates a polymer manufactured from two kinds of “guest” molecules – a perfluorophenyl and a phenyl – that sit inside barrel-shaped “host” molecules known as cucurbiturils. The visitor molecules are cross-linked to one another contained in the hosts, forming a lattice community.

As the cross hyperlinks are shaped by means of attraction between reverse fees, they continually unbind and reform. Scherman and his colleagues suspected that making the cross hyperlinks last more earlier than dissociating might enhance the resistance of the hydrogel to compression.

To take a look at this concept, the researchers modified the construction of the phenyl visitor molecules within the community to make them extra water-repellent, which elevated the time earlier than cross hyperlinks fell aside. They produced a vary of gels, from rubber-like to glass-like.

“This new class of materials holds significant promise in a wide range of applications including cartilage replacement, electronic skins, prosthetic limbs, wearable devices as well as soft robotics,” says Scherman.

Journal reference: Nature Materials, DOI: 10.1038/s41563-021-01124-x

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